Wilkes Barre — The Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals Affiliate) have had their share of thrilling games over the past two years and tonight was no different.
Penguins center Mark Letestu netted his first career hat trick but it wasn’t enough as the Bears represented their “Big Club” in jumping out to leads of 4-2 and 7-4 en route to a 8-6 victory Friday night.
Wilkes Barre struck early, scoring 45 seconds into the game as top prospect Eric Tangradi came in aggressive on the fore-check, bumping Bears defenseman Kyle Wilson off the puck and found Tim Wallace all alone in front for his 11th goal of the season.
19 seconds later, Hershey tied the game 1-1 and just over a minute into the game, it had the vibe that it was going to be a shootout.
At 5:35 of the first period, Mark Letestu (15) netted his 14th goal of the season as Wilkes Barre converted on their first power play of the game to jump out to a 2-1 lead.
It would be Wilkes Barre’s last lead of the game.
Breakdowns in the defensive zone plagued Wilkes Barre for much of the game and Hershey scored 3 unanswered goals late in the first period, including a power play goal with one second left in the first period.
Momentum was building for the Bears and Hershey scored twice just 3:02 into the second period but Mark Letestu and the Penguins responded, as Letestu scored 29 seconds later for his second goal of the game at 3:31 of the period and added goal number three, 71 seconds later to get Wilkes Barre back in the game.
Down 6-4 early in the second period and controlling the play, goaltender John Curry had an awful game and was pulled at 9:09 of the second period after Patrick McNeill beat him with a “soft” wrist shot from the top of the circles.
If you thought John Curry’s start against Vancouver was bad, tonight was even worse. He struggled with his rebound control and never looked comfortable, making 13 saves on 20 shots to take the loss.
He looked out of his league against a talented group of forwards.
Concerns in the organization continue whether Curry is a viable No. 2 goaltender in the NHL for next season and those concerns are viable.
As a team Wilkes Barre settled down defensively after Curry was pulled and made things very interesting in the third period.
Down 7-4, Tim Wallace (12) scored his second goal of the game at 10:36 of the third period and Luca Caputi (15) deflected a Mark Letestu wrist shot past goaltender Braden Holtby to get within one goal at 17:17 of the third.
Shortly after, Bears goaltender Braden Holtby was called for roughing at 18:21 of the period, giving the Penguins a prime opportunity on the power play to force overtime.
However, the Bears would spoil the Penguins comeback, scoring at 18:54 short-handed, to seal their 8-6 victory.
Bears forward Keith Aucoin had 4 assists in the game leading the way for Hershey, while Bears winger Chris Bourque had 2 assists.
Penguins Forward Nick Johnson recorded an assist after being sent down to Wilkes Barre this morning. Nick Johnson said after the game that he didn’t know if he would be recalled for Pittsburgh’s game Sunday afternoon.
Johnson indicated that the traveling back and fourth is just part of the process and he’s just looking for his next opportunity.
Chris Conner who was also re-assigned this morning, had two assists.
Letestu shined for the Penguins, recording 4 points (3g-1a) and a team high 6 shots on goal.
Tensions between the two teams were evident from the drop of the puck. There were a toal of 25 penalties between the two teams and three fighting majors for Wilkes Barre (Bortuzzo, Brookbank, Engelland).
Wilkes Barre returns to action Saturday night.
*Seeing defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in person for the first time since training camp, I came away very impressed once again.
He really caught my eye at the Penguins rookie camp and he continues to make a jump in his development.
Bortuzzo was a +3 in tonight’s 8-6 loss. His positioning was very good, keeping forwards to the outside and he has great closing speed for a big defenseman.
He’s a unique defenseman who has a physical side to him. He’s not scared to drop the gloves and it’s no wonder I continue to hear rave reviews about him from team scouts. He’s clearly the Penguins No. 2 defenseman in their system.
*I was a bit disappointed in Eric Tangradi tonight. Tangradi made a great play in the opening seconds of the game, setting up Tim Wallace for a first period goal but he wasn’t very physical or noticable for much of the night afterwards.
*Luca Caputi played a strong game game. He was mixing things and was aggressive in the offensive zone. Caputi also did a good job of establishing a net presence, which is where he’s going to score goals.
*Brian Strait has the look of a player who will be in the mix spot in the Penguins top-6 at somepoint next season but he had some positional lapses throughout the game. However, does a lot of the little things that make him remind me of Rob Scuderi and a very under-rated part of his game is on the breakout.
*Mark Letestu reminds scouts of Mike Zigomanis with a much higher upside offensively. One scout compared him to Dominic Moore. He’s an intriguing player going into training camp next season.
*Word is Ryan Bayda is being showcased for teams at the trade deadline. He agent is seeking a trade and has been granted permission by Penguins management. Meanwhile, a Wilkes Barre source says, Tim Wallace has been discussed as a potential callup in the near future for a 4th line role.